IRAQ TRACKER 3 JUL: IS hits W. Baghdad w/ SVEST; Barzani asks for referendum date, CJCS Dempsey on ISF

BLUF: An IS suicide bomber hit the Shi’a Mustafa mosque in Baghdad’s western neighborhood late night night. Iraqi Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani asked the Kurdish parliament to set a date for an independence referendum. Though Baghdad continues to deny the fact, over 2,500 border guards withdrew from the Saudi border, presumably for deployment. CJCS Dempsey delivered a sobering assessment of ISF capabilities. Baghdad also blindly denies the documented fact that the Su-25 Frogfoots flying over the country are Iranian.

In Baghdad, an IS suicide bomber [SVEST] detonated his explosives late last night at the Shi’a Mustafa Husseiniyah alognside Airport Street in the western neighborhood of Jihad, killing four and injuring 15. Interestingly, this is the second IS suicide bomber attempt at a Shi’a mosque in a week, with one occurring in Kadhimiyah a few days back. One wonders whether the dearth of VBIEDs is a deliberate change in Baghdadi’s tactics or if a limiting factor is pushing down the capability to move VBIEDs into place. Around the same time, an IED was detonated on a police patrol on Abbas Ibn Firdos Square across the street from the Mustafa mosque, suggesting significant freedom of movement for anti-government groups in the Jihad area. Reuters’ Ned Parker delivered a crushing report today on the number of insurgent sleeper cells within Baghdad, while CNN’s Arwa Damon conducted some great interviews with a deployed LAFA unit.

In Anbar, 2,500 DBE (Department of Border Enforcement) officers withdrew from the Saudi border, presumably for redeployment, while Saudi Arabia sent 30,000 men to guard the border. Baghdad continues to stubbornly deny the fact. IA shelling killed another seven civilians in Fallujah.

In Diyala, IS released photos of their conquest of a military outpost likely somewhere near Udhaim. The photos show dozens of abandoned basic cargo trucks, a couple 4x4s, and one T-72 Lion of Babylon tank that appears to remain in working condition. The photos show approximately two platoons of ISIS fighters, and later show these fighters executing seven unidentified men in a ditch. The clashes between IS-led militants and ISF + Shi’a militia in Mansouriyah seem to be escalating, though it doesn’t appear either side maintains the initiative, though ISf claimed to have cleared ad-Walib, a small town just east of Mansouriyah proper.

In Kirkuk, IA Aviation hit a small convoy of IS tankers carrying stolen fuel west of the city. The source offered that militants had stolen 40 tankers’ worth of fuel from the pipeline in that area. The emplacement and detonation of an IED on a federal police patrol at the Kasnazaniyah Hospital in Kirkuk’s southern industrial district indicates that the joint Peshmerga-Iraqi Police security cordon around Kirkuk will necessarily have holes, even as Barzani stood up a new unit with fresh forces in Kirkuk. IS also released 32 Turkish truck drivers it recently kidnapped from the Anjanah area; it will be fascinating to learn what the IS-Ankara negotiations looked like.

In Salah ad-Din, Video surfaced showing a messy scene of men who purportedly targeted the Askari shrine in Samarra.

In Babil, ISF continue to carry out heavy bombardment by artillery and airstrike on Jurf al-Sakhar, today hitting the town’s southern village of Ruwaiyah. Babil announced the graduation of the Hawra Zaynab battalion, composed of 480 troops given two weeks training. The provincial authorities said that 1,700 volunteers were already fighting within the province itself. No word yet on where this battalion will be sent.

In Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani asked the Kurdish parliament to set a date for a referendum on independence in the KRG. Simultaneously, KRG Natural Resources Minister Ashti Hawrami sent a letter to Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Karim al-Luaibi threatening to countersue Baghdad if Baghdad continued to “interfere” with KRG oil exports. The letter follows a ruling from the Supreme Court that gave temporary reprieve by holding off on signing a preliminary injunction requested by Luaibi against the KRG; again, this reprieve could very well be very temporary, and it is unclear whether the normally SLC-influenced judicial system will eventually maintain its ruling against Baghdad. The article also mentions that KRG exports to Ceyhan are still at 125,000 bpd, far below where the Kurds thought they’d be–recall that KRG wanted to be exporting 1m bpd by year’s end.

PM Maliki offered amnesty for tribal fighters who had previously worked with ISIS, and said that former Iraqi Army [read: Baathists] men may apply, as well. Unlikely to have any effect without political inclusion of Sunni politicians–individual Sunnis will not apply one a one-by-one basis.

In the U.S. CJCS Dempsey basically sidestepped all significant policy questions, stating that assessments of ISF capability are ongoing. Critically, he brought up the difficulty, if airstrikes are contemplated, of identifying which targets are strictly IS elements and which are JAI, IAI, 1920 Revoltuion Brigades, JRTN, or simple tribal fighters. Exactly.

IRAQ TRACKER 2 JUL: ISF fight followers of rogue Shi’a cleric in Karbala; continued Hawija backlash against IS

In Karbala–a normally placid area–supporters of rogue Sadrist Shi’a cleric Sheikh Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi clashed with IA and SWAT forces in the Saif Saeed district of the city. ISF immediately imposed a curfew and cut comms and internet in the province, signaling their worry of metastasizing protests. ISF had surrounded Sarkhi’s home in preparation for an arrest when fighting broke out that left 4 IA soldiers dead and another 12 wounded, with 14 Sarkhi followers dead and another 25 wounded. 10 Sarkhi followers were subsequently arrested. Later, the IA pulled out and was replaced by CTS forces while negotiations continued with Sarkhi himself.

Several policeman were wounded in clashes in Diwaniyah (Qadisiyah) province to the east while preventing Sarkhi supporters from reinforcing their leader. Basra Governor Majid Nasrawi made similar pronouncements about the stability of his territory. Authorities claimed to have arrested 30 Sarkhi followers attempting to enter Karbala, too.

In Salah ad-Din, IA Aviation helicopters struck Islamic State (IS) fuel reservoirs and tankers stationed at the Tikrit Teaching Hospital, a compound just south of the Presidential Palace in the city center, an indication of improved ISF targeting capability. ISF is staging, with Shi’a militia support, at the former 4th Division HQ in Awja, just south of the city.

SimultaneouslyIA Aviation birds bombarded Sharqat, reportedly killing 18 and wounding 18, mostly civilians. One step forward, two steps back. Jelam, the area northeast of Tikrit, is still inhabited by insurgents, as evidenced by continued IA Aviation airstrikes there. 20km north of Hawija, tribal forces, likely operating under the banner of the Hawija Liberation Brigades, retook the Mahouz IP station from IS elements in continued tribal backlash in Hawija’s outlying areas.

 

Further south, an ISIS raid from the lawless area of Nebai, southwest of Samarra, was repelled by ISF and Sadrist Saraya al-Salam elements. That corridor continues to be a crucial link for the Islamic State from Salah ad-Din down to Fallujah and Ramadi.

In Anbar, rare positive news: tribal forces are patrolling from the Turaibil border crossing with Jordan to 125km NE on the international highway, hoping to facilitate trade. They’re also patrolling south from the international highway to Nukhaib, still the forward point of ISF in the province. Another 9 civilians were killed by IA artillery fire in Fallujah.

In Diyala, insurgents began targeting electricity infrastructure, which they recently began in the Fallujah area, as well.

In Babil, the governor’s office claimed that IA Aviation struck an IS gathering in Abd al-Wayis, a village in northwest Jurf al-Sakhar, which left 60 dead and 9 vehicles destroyed. Given the fact that the same office pronounced these areas cleared yesterday, such figures should be heavily discounted.

Basra’s 3 volunteering training centers produced another battalion of fighters, sent north to fight IS.

politics: The Sadrist Trend continues to militate against Maliki’s nomination within INA, with MP Rafi abd al-Jabbar spinning the narrative that makes it seem like the Sadrists are simply being mindful of Sunni and Kurdish distaste for a third Maliki term. Reidar Visser hits back at facile media narratives about the Iraqi political process, noting again that the Shi’a coalition has not lost any ground since the beginning of the government formation process.

DOD announced that the latest contingent of 200 embassy protection soldiers will bring with them RQ-7 tactical Shadow UAVs and AH-64(? model) Apache attack helicopters to protect American personnel. The Department of State gave notice that the U.S. plans to sell 4,000 AGM-144K/R Hellfire missiles to Iraq, a vast improvement over previous tranche sizes. I do not expect Congressional opposition to this sale, though a Senator or two might make noise about Maliki. 

Conversely, the Russians delivered 4 Mi-35 Hind E assault helos and 3 Mi-28NE attack helos today, part of the October 2012 deal, which is nearly complete now. The Russian Su-25 delivery seems to have been misrepresented by the Iraqi MoD–the Su-25s flying over Bghdad yesterday were IRGC-operated Iranian copies, according to IISS analysis.

—– writing on iraq —–

Bassem Mroue, writing for AP, captures the rise of IS Syrian military commander Omar al-Shishani following his role in the seizure of Managh AB in August 2013. Interestingly, Mroue posits that Shishani could grab the top IS military command spot, following the death of former Iraqi military commander Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Bilawi al-Anbari in June 2014’s Mosul clashes–a change that would further, concomitant with the caliphate announcement, tie the two theaters together.

Notable equipment in 24 JUN Islamic State Raqqa Parade

Not too much new here; but the U.S. Marine Corps Mk23 logistics vehicles are kinda’ interesting.

3x Oshkosh Mk23/25 MTVR (Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement; designated in U.S. Marine Corps service) with a 7-ton off-road  towing capability; extremely capable logistical vehicle. Towing U.S. 7-ton M198 155mm arty pieces (range 18km).

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2x heavy civilian trucks are towing either 2x Russian M-46 or Chinese-copy Type 59-1 130mm arty systems, with ranges out to 25-27km.

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The towed artillery and Mk23 vehicles all came from Iraq.

 

1x Russian 2S1 Gvosdika 122mm self-propelled howitzer follows (range out to 12-15km).

 

1x Soviet BMP-1 (length of barrel gives it away);

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After that, we have 1x Russian T-62 main battle tank,

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1x Soviet T-55 MBT on a Syrian Arab Army flatbed transporter;

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followed by an unarmored IA HMMWV and 12, count em, 12 pickups mounted with Soviet ZU-23-2 23mm double-barreled AA guns, an insane amount of firepower for such a light force.

 

IRAQ TRACKER 1 JULY: Parliament adjourns til 8 JUL following Kurdish walkout; backlash against ISIS in Mosul and Hajjaj;

BLUF: Parliament convened, but failed to make any progress after a Sunni and Kurdish walkout. JRTN attacked the Islamic State (IS) in two provinces. Russian pilots will soon arrive to fly the Su-25s in combat; 3 are already airborne. IS moved into a village south of Baiji, but was expelled by the Jibouri tribe.

255 out of 328 MPs attended today’s parliamentary session, but the meeting–intended to see discussion of possible leadership candidates–quickly devolved into bickering and was postponed for a week after Allawi’s bloc and then the Kurdish contingent walked out. The Kurdish boycott was prompted by State of Law Coalition MP Kadhim al-Sayadi interrupting a Kurd who had the floor to accuse the Kurds as a whole of collaborating with the Islamic State.

In parliament, the Shi’a MPs present did not make an attempt to maintain quorum by themselves, and the entirety of the parliament essentially ignored Sistani’s call for adherence to the constitutional schedule last week. KRG President Masoud Barzani has announced a press conference for Thursday, where he intends to set a date for a Kurdish referendum on independence, another tactic to push parliament toward swift resolution of the government formation process. In an interview with BBC, Barzani put the timeline at “months” for a referendum, but threw the initiative to Kurdish parliament.

In Ninewa, unidentified gunmen attacked and killed three ISIS members–including a foreign fighter–in the Mosul al-Jadida (New Mosul) neighborhood in the city’s western sector. As Mosul had previously not experienced overt tension between insurgent groups, this activity could represent the initiation of pushback by the Baathist group JRTN or others against the announcement of a caliphate by the Islamic State. The Iraqi Air Force claimed to have struck an IS gathering at the University of Mosul.

An overt JRTN mortar attack on IS positions took place in the IS-controlled town Sadiyah in northern Diyala province; subsequent clashes left 1 JRTN and 3 IS members dead. This area, with its insurgent redoubts in the Hamrin Mountains to the west, has seen fighting between insurgent groups before, including months-long run of tit-for-tat kidnappings and assassination between IS and JRTN recently. Additionally, reports claimed that IS members were burning cigarettes in the town center of Sadiyah, an IS stronghold just northeast of Muqdadiyah. Recent similar behavior–flogging citizens in Sadiyah and other enforcement measures in Qara Tapah–were not seen as often prior to the caliphate announcement. IS continues to exert control over Qara Tapah, today detonating IEDs to destroy 3 houses belonging to Turkmen policemen.

In Salah ad-Din, Islamic State (IS) elements took over a school in Hajjaj village, just south of Baiji, before being expelled from the area by Jubouri tribal elements. This expulsion follows the mediated withdrawal of IS men from Alam just a few days ago, a second sign of wider Jubouri tribal distaste for Caliph Ibrahim. Fighting continues in Tikrit, with 100 vehicles of reinforcements for ISF and associated Shi’a militias rolling through Samarra on their way north today.

In Anbar, IA artillery continued indiscriminate shelling on Fallujah, killing another 9 civilians and destroying the electricity station to the northwest of the city. The ISF can no longer be considered to have operational direction in the Fallujah theater. Anonymous reports claim that the attacking alliance, which contains IS, JRTN, IAI, and Jaish al-Rashideen, is negotiating with Jughaifi and Albu Salman tribal leaders for the safe exit of remaining ISF units in the city.

In Baghdad, low-level sectarian activities continued, with a Ministry of Commerce employee shot and killed in western Baghdad’s Iskan neighborhood and two more people were killed in a home attack in the NW Baghdad area of Rahminiyah. Police found two executed bodies in W Baghdad’s Hurriya area, with another two executed men found in Sadr City’s northernmost reaches.  A clash erupted between Iraqi Army “volunteers” and IS elements in Mashadah, just north of the city, indicating further IS presence in the area following yesterday’s raid on an IA convoy just north in Tarmiyah.

Babil province continues to see massive bouts of recruitment for the ISF, with Governor Sadiq al-Madloul today announcing two new brigades: the 1st Lion of Babil Brigade and the 2nd Aquilah Brigade; the naming of the latter suggests that the brigade is at least comprised of Shi’a partisans, if not militiamembers themselves. Maliki replaced the Babil Operations Command leader [BabOC] for the fourth time in six months. New commander MGEN Abdul Hussein al-Baidhani was fired in 2006 for allowing widespread looting when his unit took over from the British at Camp Abu Naji in Amara, Maysan.

Outside of Iraq, President Obama sent 300 more U.S. troops to the country, ostensibly for further embassy defense, while the Saudi king announced $500m in “aid” for Iraq, which will likely flow to Iraqi Sunnis exclusively.

–writing on iraq—-

Rod Nordland writes another bizarre piece for the NYT on Chalabi’s path to prime minister. I continue to refuse to take this suggestion seriously.

IRAQ TRACKER 30 JUN: Caliphate announced; Tikrit offensive stalls; (Bela)Russian Su-25s arrive; Saraya al-Salam deployed

Over the weekend, ISIS announced its restoration of the khilafah, or caliphate. The new name is simply Islamic State, abbreviated IS. Read and follow Aaron Zelin and J.M. Berger for great early takes on this development, which promises resounding second- and third-order effects on the military and political contours of the current crisis.

In Salah ad-Din, Baghdad’s push to retake Tikrit stalled over the weekend following progress late last weekend. CNN, citing local residents, says that IA continues to shell the city, an indication that ISF control inside remains exceedingly limited. Reportedly, roads had already been lined with IEDs–a development I warned made re-taking these cities more difficult by the day. Errant IA Aviation strikes, like the one conducted this morning on Tikrit city center that killed civilians, also make that job more difficult. A second airstrike in central Baiji killed mainly women and children, too.  ISF simply cannot afford to alienate the Sunni population further if they want to take advantage of the new opportunity to split non-Salafist Sunni insurgent groups from the Islamic State. An insurgent attack on Tarmiyah that left five IA soldiers dead indicates the enduring difficulty of extending operations north while lines of control remain contested. ISF continues to hold out in Camp Speicher. Two battalions of Saraya al-Salam, Sadr’s Mahdi Army spin-off, joined Badr, AAH, and KH in Samarra. Interestingly, elements from the 3rd Federal Police Division seem to have reconstituted and are fighting in Awenat, just south of Awja and Tikrit.

In Ninewa, further IA Aviation airstrikes targeted the neighborhoods of Siddiq, Wahda, and Najjar in Mosul, causing mainly civilian casualties.

In Kirkuk, heavy fighting in Bashir, just south of the city, culminated late last night with five dead IS fighters and eight wounded Pesh soldiers. Many Turkmen self-defense members were casualties of fighting earlier in the day, and the battle there seems to have stagnated for the moment, with heavy casualties taken on both sides.

Anbar province today saw Habbaniyah police chief COL Hammad al-Fahdawi and three of his bodyguards killed east of Ramadi, further bad news for ISF units that will be trapped between Haditha and Ramadi should the ISF continue to experience losses in the latter. Another hit-and-run attack on an IP checkpoint left four more policemen dead, emblematic of the difficulties ISF has had with severing insurgent links between Ramadi and Fallujah. ISF continue to publish unverifiable claims of successful operations not tied to specific areas in Anbar. ISF CT forces continue to fight with the IA 1st Rapid Intervention Brigade near the Maudhifin Bridge, which takes the international highway through east Fallujah, and in Sejar, a suburb to the northeast of the city. Both areas are contested at present. IS contingents continue to skirmish with ISF in Haditha, while they have surrounded the IA 8th Brigade HQ NW of Ramadi and are now directly assaulting the base.

In Babil, an IED was detonated on an IA patrol in Yusufiyah, killing one soldier in the HMMWV. These attacks are not significant at first glance, but add up day after day to an unsustainable casualty ratio and an inability to foster the freedom of movement necessary for putting insurgents on the defensive. Babil Provincial Council [BabPC] chairman Raad al-Jibouri survived mortar fire on his convoy while riding through Jurf al-Sakhar for unknown reasons. New video from AAH shows their participation in clearing operations in Jurf al-Sakhar, which have rather clearly been unsuccessful. In an item I missed on Friday, reports seemed to edge closer to confirmation the 70 dead prisoners from last week’s IS hit on a convoy near Hilla were executed by their transporters.

Baghdad remains quiet for the moment, thought it continues to witness low-level sectarian activities, such as today’s assassination of a man in Shurta Rabaa and an executed body found in Bayaa–both in the city’s southwest. An MoD official was assassinated on Canal Street, possibly the work of Madhi Army elements that control the Sadr City area.

Fighting continues in Mansouriyah and Jalula in Diyala province, while IA Aviation airstrikes on Anjanah village and Amerli to the east and west of Highway 3 indicates insurgent control there. IS reportedly opened fire on a village in the Qarah Tapa area in the far north of Diyala after residents took down the group’s black flag.

Five Su-25s arrived in Iraq over the weekend, and IQAF commander GEN Anwar Hama Ameen intends to get the aircraft into the fight immediately. The delivery of all 12 should be completed by tonight, with Russian technical advisers to stay on for set-up, ostensibly on a temporary basis. Somehow I doubt that will be the case. Even with a now-expedited timeline for AH-64 Apache attack bird delivery, this case perfectly illustrates how much more flexible the U.S. must become to assist Iraq on a meaningful time scale. The delivery of 75 AGM-114K/R Hellifre missiles over the weekend to replenish Iraq’s empty stores simply will not cut it.

Elsewhere, Diwaniyah sent another battalion-sized contingent of “volunteers” to Baghdad, bringing the province (also called Qadisiyah) to over 4,000 volunteers volunteered. Anonymous sources from the Turkish government said that Ankara will support a unity government in Iraq, but will not back a Kurdish independence bid. Various Iraqi parties have been leaking information about the nomination of possible prime ministers, but I do not consider any of these reports as nonpartisan as of yet. The Sadrists have officially called for a non-Maliki PM, while the INA met, but did not settle the matter. Several Sunni blocs, including Nujaifi’s Mutahidun, Mutlaq’s Arabiyya, and provincially based lists in Anbar and Diyala.

———– writing on iraq RAND’s Dalia Dassa Kaye attempts to make the case that Islamic State gains in Iraq may actually weaken Iranian influence in Iraq. I don’t agree generally, though the point should be made that Iranian proxies in Iraq have failed miserably in their attempts to act as force multipliers for the Iraqi Army.

IRAQ TRACKER 27 JUN: ISIS withdraws from Aalam to Tikrit; 10,000 displaced in Qara Qosh; U.S. mission expands

In Salah ad-Din, intensified IA Aviation airstrike on Tikrit reportedly forced ISIS to withdraw around 50 wounded fighters from the hospital in Tikrit. They were moved to an unknown location. Additionally, locals reported that ISIS withdrew from the nearby town of Alam, seized three days ago, after tribal mediation. They said fighters headed back to Tikrit. More reporting will help conclude whether ISIS withdrew primarily at the behest of tribal leaders it wishes to work with, or because it needs the military power in Tikrit. Federal Police subsequently re-occupied Aalam. IA Aviation airstrikes continue in Tikrit in support of the airborne assault, which began yesterday at the university stadium and saw one helicopter crash after being hit by insurgent fire. It remains unclear how much progress ISOF has made; a video purportedly from the fight showing about a dozen ISIS KIA and 4-5 captured ISIS fighters was released today. Preliminary indications from the Jabour tribe in Salah ad-Din presage further fighting between tribal elements and ISIS in the province.

Peshmerga stationed in Tuz Khurmatu reported that only 500m separates their lines from those of ISIS, which resides in Salman Beg, The Pesh sources added that they had received reinforcements and heavy weaponry as a precaution against a militant assault on the primarily Iraqi Turkmen town.

Just NE of Baiji refinery, the ISF reported that IA Aviation struck an ISIS checkpoint near the village of Adhirban, killing eight civilians, five ISIS fighters, and two vehicles. ISF claimed that ISIS used the civilians as human shields.

The U.S. quietly disclosed that it is now flying Hellfire-armed Predators over Baghdad as a force protection measure for the 140 newly arrived military advisers; the UAVs reportedly fly from Kuwait. U.S. (un)manned ISR flights are up to 40/day.

In Ninewa, displacement of Christian families continues from Qara Qosh and associated areas, following fighting between ISIS and Peshmerga forces there. 10,000 people have reportedly fled so far, says UNHCR. Unconfirmed reports state that ISIS distributed recruitment forms for men aged 18-50.

In Diyala, ISF emphasized their cordon around Muqdadiyah, saying heightened security procedures accompanied patrols by ISF and Sahwa fighters around the city, fearing militant targeting of Shi’a mosques. Up in Sadiyah, tribal fighters ambushed and killed two militants driving from the ISIS-controlled town to the Hamrin Mountains, an historic refuge for insurgents. Unconfirmed reports state that ISIS has banned representation of any other armed groups in Sadiyah. Two other ISIS members died while planting an IED on the outskirts of Sadiyah. In the southern suburbs of Jalula, ISF and Peshmerga forces repelled an ISIS attack on a Pesh barracks, killing three. Clashes continue in Mansouriyah, N of Muqdadiyah, where the IA lost 4 members and, along with tribal fighters, suffered 14 wounded.

In Anbar, gunmen prevented worshipers from attending Friday prayers in Rawa, fearing airstrikes by the Syrian government. ISF reportedly lost control of Tamim district in southwest Ramadi, allowing 12 HMMWVs, 2 tanks, 4 APCs, and a large amount of materiel to be captured. IA Aviation is now carrying out airstrikes on Tamim. Down south in the desert, militias of unclear origin were deployed in Nukhaib. ISIS released a video purporting to show captured ISF members in Rutba.

Fallujah General Hospital educational director Dr. Ahmed al-Shani says that 488 civilians have been killed and 1719 more wounded since fighting in Fallujah began in December 2013. Many of these casualties are as a result of the indiscriminate shelling of the city by Iraqi Army artillery elements.

In Babil, mortars landed on the 38th Brigade base in Jurf, indicating continued lack of security in the area, despite repeated ISF announcements that the area had been cleared.

In Kirkuk, Jaysh al-Mujahideen released a video claiming presence on the road between Kirkuk and Riyadh, and purportedly got one of the captured T-55 MBTs to work.

——

In Baghdad, the Supreme Court surprisingly decided to punt on KRG’s independent oil exports, stating that they wouldn’t prevent exports while the case is being studied. Kurdistan continues to feel the effects of the oil crisis, as it relied on Baiji Refinery for 40% of its needs; plus, one of the two refineries in KRG has diverted flows to Kirkuk, which KRG is now supporting.

 

——

Elsewhere, ISF evacuated 1,500 Chinese nationals from Salah ad-Din to Baghdad…surprising it took this long.

 

IRAQ TRACKER 26 JUN: ISIS fights Badr + ISF in Mansuriyah; ISF staging at Ishaqi; ISOF airborne assault @ Tikrit uni; Syria hit Rabiaa?

In Salah ad-Din, sources reported a military buildup of IA and CTS forces near Ishaqi, ostensibly in preparation for the retaking of Tikrit, which ISOF commander Fadhil Barwari has also announced. While IA Aviation has been striking Tikrit for a week now, their softening attempt is not likely to have significantly degraded the militant posture in Tikrit itself, while ISIS robbed the Agricultural Bank of Tikrit last night, leaving with around $6m USD.

      ISOF claims to have carried out a successful airborne assault (with 3 helos) on Tikrit University, which would be a heartening indication that someone in the ISF command structure appreciates initiative in warfare. If the three birds were unaccompanied, IA Aviation probably used Mi-35 Hind Es–which can protect themselves–indicating an assault force of platoon size. As yet, the situation remains unclear as does a similar assault in Sharqat district; though Salah ad-Din governor Ahmed Abdullah al-Jubouri has now confirmed it.  Further south, ISF reported that a contingent of IA M1A1 Abrams MBTs destroyed 4 ISIS vehicles and killed 28 fighters in the Rafiyat area south of Balad, which also indicates continued insurgent freedom of movement in the Balad sub-district.  

      ISF also caught 3 ISIS snipers crossing the river north of Samarra–continued indication of ISIS’s extensive usage of waterways that has included boat-borne explosive attacks on bridges and the employment of mobile pontoon bridges for movement. IA Aviation claimed to have destroyed an ISIS convoy consisting of 4 fuel tankers and 3 arms/ammunition trucks south of Siniyah, a possible indication of resupply by ISIS to its forward operating areas. North of Tikrit, in Sharqat district, ISIS reportedly executed 7 IA soldiers.

In Kirkuk, the contested town of Bashir saw ISIS mortar fire killed three Kurdish peshmerga soldiers and wound two more. North of Kirkuk, in the KRG capital of Irbil, the brother of contorversial Sunni politican Mishan al-Jubouri was assassinated in a hotel by men using silenced pistols. Waiting for more information on that one. Iraqi Kurdistan president Masoud Barzani today visits, Kirkuk–will be inflammatory, for sure. ISIS also held a military parade in Hawija, reportedly consisting of 300 military and civilian vehicles in total.

In Diyala, an ISIS assault using ISF military vehicles hit a security checkpoint in Deli Abbas (Mansouriyah), a large village just northwest of Muqdadiyah–an area that has been heavily contested over the past week. ISIS elements executed a policeman before engaging with ISF backed by tribal fighters, who killed 5 ISIS fighters and destroyed three vehicles. Diyala police chief later cited higher numbers of KIA and alluded to the capture of an ISIS safe house in the village, though conflicting reports mentioned ISIS’s capture of an IA barracks on the town’s outskirts. The counterattack was reportedly led by Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri–who also led the attack on Udhaim–and indicates the increasingly active participation of the Badr Organization, led by Amiri, which currently provides security across large swathes of Diyala. Fighting continues, with Iraq Oil Report stating that the advance threatens the Mansouriyah gas field.

Up in Sadiyah, an area of ISIS control, the group burned three shops after owners refused to pay tribute–the first such behavior in Sadiyah in recent memory. East, across the border in Iran, 3 Iranian border guards were killed by unknown gunmen.

In Ninewa, the Syrian Air Force reportedly struck ISIS positions in the border town of Rabiaa, an odd report given Peshmerga control of the area. ISIS-Peshmerga fighting in Qara Qosh continues; so far, Pesh forces have suffered 1KIA 8WIA, while ISIS suffered 2KIA 18WIA. Despite the Pesh cordon around Bartella, an ISIS suicide car bomber (SVBIED) got through to the Shabak village of Muwafaqiyah, killing and injuring a number of citizens.

In Mosul, 28 bodies showed up at the morgue, many bearing stab wounds. No idea. ISIS today bulldozed the Hadba Police Directorate. IA Aviation struck an ISIS convoy passing through Hammam al-Alil, roughly 15km south of Mosul along the river. Governor Athil al-Nujaifi is attempting to get Baghdad to pay the salaries of Mosul’s administrative employees by transferring funds to Irbil…unlikely to happen.

——

In Babil, authorities found 8 more executed bodies in Mahmudiyah. It is unclear where these bodies are from–they could be from a contingent of men kidnapped earlier this week, or recently executed men in response to yesterday’s suicide bombing and mortaring of Mahmudiyah, a Shi’a stronghold just south of Baghdad. ISF continued operations in the Jurf area, citing 15 ISIS fighters KIA.

In Baghdad, an ISIS suicide bomber [SVEST] hit the Quraish gate in the Shi’a neighborhood of Kadhimiyah, leaving seven dead and 34 more wounded. Military leaders began setting up the first joint operations center with U.S. forces. NYT reports on Shi’a militia activities in Baghdad itself, nearing my figure of ~20 executions per week–a far cry from the absolute horror that once was Baghdad, but a telling sign of possibilities to come, should the crisis deepen. Down in Dhi Qar, Maliki replaced MGEN Sadiq al-Zaidi with BGEN Hassan Salman Zaidi.

In Anbar, PM Maliki ostensibly confirmed to BBC that the airstrikes in Rutba and Qaim (and presumably Baaj) were Syrian in origin; Maliki said he had not requested the strikes (doubtful), but welcomed them. ISF’s 1st ISOF Brigade claimed to have cleared Dubbat district in southern Ramadi–unlikely–while dismantling 10 large IEDs that sources reported were “foreign-made;” simultaneously, ISF reportedly lost control of SW Ramadi’s Tamim District and its central strongpoint of the Shaheed IP station. Interestingly, reports from Jordan indicate that the kingdom is in close contact with tribal leaders in western Anbar as a channel of influence that goes beyond their defensive posture on the border. IA + Sahwa are holding the line at Haditha, where fighting continues, as ISF opens 5 sluices of the Haditha dam. Dhi Qar province sent 1,000 members of a Popular Brigade (of volunteers) to the border with Saudi Arabia; many of the Border Enforcement units in that area have been deployed elsewhere.

POLITICS: The first parliamentary meet-up for government formation will occur on July 1st. Al-Hayat cites high-ranking political sources who say that the INA has agreed to dump Maliki, but the source’s report of widespread support for Ahmed Chalabi leaves me suspicious of the origin of the information. Surely Iran and the U.S. do not believe they can pull a PM candidate from outside Dawa? The INA is meeting again today; NYT reports that at least three senior SLC MPs are wavering on Maliki, incl. former NSA Abd al-Karim al-Anzi

While meeting with Kerry in Paris, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman went right after Kerry’s message during his visit to Irbil, wherein he emphasized unity of Iraq. Lieberman said such a move was a “foregone conclusion,” words echoed by Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was at the White House on Thursday. Not entirely surprising, given Tel Aviv’s choice to import Kurdish oil in contravention of the U.S. policy of non-sale prior to resolution of the oil-sharing dispute by Irbil and Baghdad. While in Paris, Kerry also met with GCC leaders to push a second Sunni Awakening and remained noncommital on endorsing or dumping PM Maliki.

KRG PM Nechirvan Barzani and Kirkuk governor Najmuddin Karim visited Ankara to meet with Erdogan, Davetoglu, Hakan, and Yildiz; both sides seemed to see eye to eye on the need for an inclusive Iraqi government, though KRG’s words were, of course, far more explicit. KRG President Masoud Barzani, meanwhile, took a morale-boosting tour of Kirkuk.

Elsewhere, Mutahidun lieutenant Mohammed Iqbal criticized yesterday’s decision by Maliki to hold off on paying salaries in contested zones, accusing the PM of sectarian bias, since the decision primarily affects Sunnis. 

writing on iraq

Buzzfeed’s Mike Giglio continues his string of fine reporting, this time following an AAH fighter from Karbala who had been fighting in the Damascus countryside with AAH’s expeditionary groups. He was called back from leave while in Karbala when ISIS overran Mosul; AAH deployed to Mosul, Ramadi, and Diyala (the last two of which have seen low-level, covert Shi’a militia activity for some time). The fighter’s account at the end–of AAH deployments coincident with, but not operating with, Iraqi Army elements–is fascinating, and new evidence of AAH-only operations beyond their normal advisory role. A quote further up is also telling–that many AAH recruits drop out of training because it is so difficult…which speaks to the professionalism of the IRGC-QF and Hizballah training contingents in Iraq, a far cry from the normal ISF training procedures and even further from the one-week course new recruits are now getting.

Plus and interesting report in Newsweek about the capabilities of Iraqi intelligence services. Shane Harris on FPM reports on the difficulties social media companies have in purging their services of jihadi propaganda. WINEP’s Matt Levitt provides a thorough overview of a potential expansion of Lebanese Hezbollah deployments in Iraq–particularly likely if AAH and KH continue to falter in their areas of operations.

Another worrying report from Reuters on ISIS’s C2 abilities w/r/t other Sunni insurgent groups, countered by a fine report by Mushreq Abbas on differing ideologies amongst insurgent actors.

IRAQ TRACKER 25 JUN: New threat to ISIS in Hawija; ISIS takes Ajil oil field; escalation in Kirkuk; Maliki rejects unity govt; Haditha in dire straits; Balad AB being shelled

In Kirkuk, the ostensibly organic Sahwa militia, “Hawija Liberation Brigades,” announced that it had killed 3 ISIS members in Mahooz village, about 20km north of Hawija along the Little Zab River. The continued growth of an anti-insurgent movement in these critical areas could pose serious problems for ISIS’s protection of its lines of control from Mosul and the Zab Triangle out to its fronts south of Kirkuk and in southern Salah ad-Din province. Reported ISIS execution of three Hawija Sahwa members and kidnappings of suspected Sahwa fighters in the villages of Sada and Aqulah, south and north of Hawija, respectively. Continued developments in Hawija’s surroundings will be a critical indicator of ISIS staying power. The militant campaign in Kirkuk appears to have picked up, with a suicide bomber in the arms market of Rahimiwa, Kirkuk and the assassination of Council of Iraqi Turkmen elder and prominent businessman Fatih Mohamed Shaker, which comes only a day after militants shot and killed the Turkmen leader of the Kirkuk City Council. Continued mobilization of Iraqi Turkmen self-defense forces will continue and likely expand beyond initial Sahwa creation in Taza following the ISIS advance on nearby Bashir. Cooperation between Turkmen Sahwa and Peshmerga continues, though both sides are wary of one another.

In Salah ad-Din, witnesses reported that ISIS completely controls the Ajil oil field–the province’s largest–northeast of Tikrit, a field that borders the Kirkuk oil field. Local tribes, who had backfilled departing Iraqi Police, fled following the fall of Alam two days ago. The Ajil field is capable of 20,000 barrels per day, but has not produced since ISIS moved into the area. The group’s seizure of Arumel and Hamel villages, which straddle the Kirkuk-Tikrit highway north of the Hamrin Mountains, was reportedly not met well with the local tribesmen. In Tikrit itself, IA Aviation continues incessant and inaccurate airstrikes, killing 12 more people today, adding to the 20+ killed in the past couple days. As I warned last week, the inability of ISF to rapidly clear Yathrib, a village directly adjacent to the north of Balad AB, has led to shelling of the base by militants, corroborated by several sources. It will get worse, if insurgents gain the operational freedom to bring in indirect fire larger than their normal 82mm mortars. Further, the “clearing” of Ishaqi appears to have only minimally ocurred: militants hit the house of deputy governor of Salah ad-Din governor, Sheikh Ismail Khudair al-Halab, leaving 32 casualties. Heavy fighting continues at the Baiji refinery, where a colonel with a small contingent of CTS soldiers are essentially surrounded by militants after the remaining 400 IA soldiers of 38/9Bde fled.

In Diyala, provincial police chief MGEN Jamil al-Shammari denied reports that Camp Ashraf had fallen, echoing earlier statements by officials that ISF currently control both Camp Ashraf and Udhaim, to the north. If the situation persists, the re-taking of Udhaim represents the first significant ISF victory in its counter-offensive, a particularly important one that serves to insulate Diyala from the infiltration of ISIS through its areas of control in Salah ad-Din.

In Babil, an ISIS suicide bomber struck market cafe in Mahmudiyah, while militant mortar fire hit several different areas in the city; the combined attacks left at least 12 dead. This is the first significant ISIS push in Babil since the onset of the Mosul offensive, and will likely prompt a rapid increase in AAH forward operations.  ISF operations in Jurf and Alexandria killed 4 ISIS men and resulted in the seizure of a VBIED/IED manufacturing factory in Jurf, a common occurrence.

In Ninewa, ISIS reportedly probed Peshmerga positions in Qara Qosh, a large town SE of Mosul where the Ninewa Provincial Council has been reconstituted. IA Aviation helicopters hit Muhallabiyah, a large village located 25km southeast of Tal Afar–indicating that ISF do not control that area. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Syrian aircraft struck the center of Baaj, a desert town 125km SW of Mosul. North of Mosul, ISIS reportedly seized..

Down in Baghdad, PM Maliki, speaking in his weekly Wednesday address, rejected the outside call for a National Salvation Government of Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurds–as expected. Though Maliki cited the guidance of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in his decision to bring the State of Law Coalition to the opening round of government formation, he also stressed the constitutional right of SLC to have the first shot at forming a government. Other political leaders have as yet been unable to form a unified front or collect support for an alternative Prime Minister. 3 men were killed in an attack at a liquor store in eastern Baghdad’s Zayouna neighborhood, typically a sign of Shi’a militia activity.

In Anbar, militants assaulted Barwana, a southeastern suburb of Haditha–ISF detonated the Barwana pontoon bridge yesterday. The militant advance appears to have ISF and its tribal allies surrounded, with one escape route to the south, which will be open to significant amounts of harassment. NYT quoted an IA officer who asked dam employees to open the floodgates, which would essentially render static the military situation for both ISIS and ISF. Desperation, indeed.

Anbar Provincial Council deputy chairman Faleh al-Issawi generally supported the government’s tactical withdrawal from the Iraqi-Syrian border, called for increased air support in the province, and announced his worry that Anbar’s fall could be worse than the fall of Ninewa. Of note: Issawi said that previous negotiations, designed by PM Maliki and tribal leaders to split tribal fighters away from ISIS, are on pause. Anbar Operations Command leader GEN Rashid Fleih made the astute observation that airstrikes in the desert are easier than those conducted inside cities, all the while waxing rhapsodically about making western Anbar “a graveyard for ISIS.” Less talking, more maneuver, general. Both men averred that Haditha would represent a decisive military engagement–that remains to be seen.

 

IRAQ DAILY TRACKER 24 JUN: ISF credibility hits new low; ISIS hits Ramadi funeral; ISIS in Mosul to stay

ISIS held another military parade in Mosul last night–looking forward to reviewing that–while they reportedly bulldozed the Sheikh Fathi shrine west of the city today. The ISF commander in the area, Abu Walid, announced a new offensive in Tal Afar, but it remains unclear whether or not he still exercises command over whatever ISF contingents remain in western Ninewa province. A security source reported that ISIS continues to booby-trap its areas of control in Mosul, a development I warned would make re-taking seized cities more difficult by the day. Government employees are still working without pay in Mosul, and Baghdad today announced that salaries would only be paid in areas of government control, a product of both security concerns and an effort to showcase the ineffective governance capabilities of ISIS and its temporary allies. In Babil, ISF reportedly arrested 3 “Baath Party members” [read: JRTN] in Diriyah, a town just south of Madain. JRTN does not maintain a strong presence in Babil, where a heavy mix of Shi’a militias proliferate, with ISIS operating solo in the northwestern areas of the province that abut Anbar Province. Continued reports of these kind could indicate an extension of JRTN operational presence. ISF’s announcement of 24 ISIS KIA by IA 31/8Bde in northern Babil operations continues a months-long trend of announcing successful advances in Jurf al-Sakhar, an ISIS stronghold. Additional details include that 5 of the 24KIA were Qatari or Syrian, and ISIS reportedly used civilian shields in the fighting. In reality, that area of operations remains a stalemate. In Baghdad, Masalah is reporting that gunmen executed a hit-and-run attack on the Kirkuk Provincial Council chairman. I’m waiting for independent confirmation on this, but it could be any number of actor. In Salah ad-Din, Sammara Operations Command Iraqi Army elements reportedly clashed with ISIS in the Jelam desert area northeast of the city, claiming 40 ISIS KIA and 8 technicals destroyed. At the same time, 50 families (~200 people) fled from Yathrib, just north of Balad AB, across the Tigris into a village in Dhuluiya, which the ISF recently cleared, to a certain degree. Beating back insurgent advances in Yathrib–today ISF claimed to have killed 12 ISIS fighters–remains critical for ISF in terms of providing force protection to Balad AB. Reports coming out of Baiji refinery are near-unbelievable (40 ISIS KIA, etc) but fighting does appear to continue in the center of the complex; outside, IA Aviation claims to have killed 19 insurgents in airstrikes today, while PM Maliki announced his promotion of all ISF members fighting at the refinery. A Shi’a militia group entitled “Popular Defense Brigades” (still unclear who) met up with IA units on the Baghdad-Samarra roadway. The continued emphasis by government figures on volunteers joining up through official ISF channels serves as a decent indicator that much of the extant recruitment is occurring outside that framework into full-blown Iranian proxies or organic Shi’a militias unanswerable to ISF. ISF spokesman GEN Atta continues to stretch credulity with today’s announcement of the retaking of Waleed and Turaibil border crossings. These reports are no longer solid indicators of ISF operational presence or intent; rather, they are interesting markers of PM Maliki’s strategic communications plan. Indeed, a corroborating Anbar Operations Command announcement of a military offensive in western Anbar does nothing to reinforce Atta’s claims. In Anbar, Outside of Fallujah, in the still-under-construction University of Fallujah grounds to the south and in Sejar to the northeast, ISF Golden Division counter-terrorist elements killed 9 ISIS snipers. Finally, ISF reinforced Nukhaib, replacing local Iraqi Police with Federal Police–the town remains extremely vulnerable, especially to a basic siege. ISIS in Ramadi used a suicide car bomb [SVBIED] to hit a funeral for IA colonel Majeed Mohammed, who was recently killed in Rawa while leading the 28th Brigade. Prominent tribal leaders in Anbar–many of whom are anti-Maliki–announced that they will defend Haditha and its hydroelectric dam with the Iraq Army against an impending ISIS assault, a welcome development for Baghdad, which desperately needs tribal support to hold territory in Anbar. Over in Diyala, fighting continues in Udhaim, with ISF claiming 21 ISIS KIA and 2 vehicles destroyed–ISF have reportedly stood up popular committees of local tribal fighters to hold gains in Udhaim. ISF and tribal fighters continue to skirmish with ISIS on the outskirts of Sadiyah, an ISIS stronghold northeast of Muqdadiyah. Families in northern Sadiyah are leaving for Khanaqin as Peshmerga and tribal fighters battle ISIS there. In Kirkuk, WaPo’s Abigail Hauslohner delivers a fine report with the most granular detail yet on the ISIS massacres carried out upon seizure of Bashir and its associated farming villages. Such behavior further alienates local communities, which were already fairly anti-ISIS, given the massive response to an ISF recruitment drive initiated by the 12th Infantry Division carried out in March. other news NYT’s Tom Erdbrink reports on the intra-Shi’a divisions, emphasizing return of spat between Sistani and Sadr. McClatchy’s Hannah Allam has an incredible scoop from captured DOD documents analyzed by RAND that put ISIS’s outside funding at 5-10%, showing a tiered organization that requires each level to kick back 20% of income to the next higher level, where Mosul would funnel money back out to areas of fighting; also, martyr payments were the group’s largest expense; further, ISIS soldiers made only $40/mo in the period surveyed, highlighting the ideological sway of the group. Concomitantly, WINEP’s Lori Plotkin Boghardt also swats down the “outside funding” narrative, highlighting Saudi counter-financing efforts and the pervasive push by militant groups to get their donors to push money through Kuwait, a more permissive environment–or using cash transfers to avoid authorities in Riyadh.

IRAQ DAILY TRACKER 23 JUN: Kerry in Baghdad, ISIS hits prisoner convoy in Babil, ISF to hold at Haditha, ISIS escalates in Jalula

On the Diyala-Salah ad-Din border, ISF claims to exercise full control over Udhaim as they stage to move toward Anjanah, which lies south of Pesh-controlled Tuz Khurmatu on the Baghdad-Kirkuk highway. Just west of that, and barely south of Kirkuk, the ISIS massacre in Bashir was partially confirmed, with 15 bodies of Shi’a militants–at least some of whom had been lynched–were returned to the town.

Sectarian activities continue, with unknown militants killing a family of six in Mashahda, just north of Baghdad int he Tarmiyah area. Another 2 executed men were found on Canal Street in eastern Baghdad’s Sadr City. Four more executed bodies were found in Amil district, bringing the total near 20 for this week in Baghdad.

Big news: as expected, Kerry diverted from his “Middle East” trip to visit PM Maliki in Baghdad, reportedly pushing for a more inclusive government in a 100-minute meeting. The reporting from the meeting so far is thin:

There was little small talk when Kerry met Maliki, the two men seated in chairs in a room with other officials. At one point Kerry looked at an Iraqi official and said, “How are you?”

 

In Anbar, the Waleed border crossing fell to ISIS, with Sunni tribes taking the southern Turabil crossing to Jordan following an ISF pullout. As I’ve been indicating since the beginning, Anbar Province barely had the necessary force structure to maintain fighting positions at the onset of this crisis; further redeployment opened the province wholly to insurgents. ISF lost more ground in Anbar, having now pulled back to the town center of Nukhaib, southeast of Ramadi, after losing control of the outlying areas. Nukhaib is a small town sitting at the junction of Highway 21, which runs south from Karbala into Saudi Arabia, and Highway 22, which splits off from the Anbar segment of the international highway and runs south. The town likely cannot be held for long, unless reinforcement arrive from the southern provinces. Those forces are sitting on the Anbar-Karbala border; doubt they’re going anyway.

Further, ISF detonated the Fahim Bridge in Haditha District to try to arrest the advance of militants from western Anbar, forcing the ISF to reconstitute in Haditha itself, where the ISF will try to hold the line, sending 960 tribal Sahwa elements to the district. New reports from the western border state that ISIS operates in the area with the support of the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI), Omar Brigades, and Hussein Brigades. The source stated that the armed elements had released surrendered ISF members and allowed the border authorities to conduct business regularly, while the groups inspected military materiel seized over the weekend. These groups were reported, but rarely confirmed, to be present in Fallujah with ISIS. OCINC spokesman GEN Atta confirmed that the pullouts in Anbar province were the result of military orders, not general retreats, and tried to stem rumors that Abu Walid, ostensibly leading the charge in Tal Afar, had fled to Sinjar–but Kurdish TV showed him with Peshmerga. Tal Afar, including the airport, is now fully under control of insurgents. Fighting around Fallujah seems to have devolved, from an ISF perspective, into simple airstrikes on ISIS and co. positions.

In Babil, ISIS reportedly hit a convoy of prisoners being transported away from Nile village (25km NE of Hillah) by elements of either the Iraqi Police or the IA Scorpion Brigade. 5 IA and 5 ISIS were reportedly killed in the fighting, along with 71 of the prisoners. Such a large number of deaths indicates that many were likely executed. Given the recent ISIS attack on the Mafraq IP station in Baquba, this is the second large ISIS strike on concentrations of prisoners (normally Sunnis), which may indicate their intent to instigate massacres. Secondarily, the eastward reach of the strike may indicate a dearth of pro-government presence in the area as Shi’a militias move out from Babil province.

ISIS continues to harass IA checkpoints in Yusufiyah, but the effort in Babil and the Babil-Anbar corridor has yet to pick up on either side. 23/17Bde claims to have killed 7 ISIS militants in an ambush in Yusufiyah’s associated Mnari village.

In Diyala, ISIS detonated an SVBIED (suicide car bomb) on the bridge in northwest Jalula that crosses the Diyala river in the Upper Diyala River Valley, injuring 4 Pesh soldiers in the blast. The attack was likely intended to cut off Pesh forces in Jalula from Kurdistan proper, even though Kurdish fighters in Jalula can now be resupplied from Khanaqin, which is Pesh-occupied. This is a longstanding tactic of ISIS, developed to exacerbate ISF logistics shortcomings and canalize movements to increase IED lethality and shape ISF posture.

A new fighting unit was announced in Baquba by retired BGEN Khudair al-Mekemadyi comprised of 4,500 tribal men and volunteers from Baquba proper. He added that the brigade, composed of eight battalions, was trained “over the past few days” and awaits orders from Tigris Operations Command. Given the influence of several Shi’a militias in the area, it is likely this brigade, just like those formed in Babil province, are either heavily infiltrated by or under the control of Shi’a militia leaders. ISIS reportedly called for all other armed groups to leave its stronghold of Sadiyah, NE of Muqdadiyah, within 48hrs. ISIS-JRTN fighting could follow, if the demand is confirmed.

Having pulled out nearly completely from Tal Afar, IA Aviation has begun airstrikes on associated militant elements within the city. Further south, fighting continues in Samarra, with the Volcano Battalion, recently sent from Wasit, claiming it killed 20 ISIS fighters today after killing 30 on Friday; these number are inflated, but they give a good idea of the intensity of the fighting.

On the military side, numerous sources reported that Baghdad is looking for additional Mi-35M Hind E assault helicopters, having had 7 downed since the inception of the crisis in December 2013–some by anti-aircraft gunnery, some by MANPADS. I expect the Czech government will agree rather rapidly to a deal for 7 new Mi-35s, a deal reportedly worth $12m. The report also cites “damage” (type/significance unclear) to 60 birds–no matter how bad the damage, those helos are unlikely to fly combat-effective missions any time soon, owing to the poor maintenance and repair capabilities of the Iraqi Army. IAA also lost one of the U.S.-delivered Cessna–provided as a platform for AGM-144K/R Hellfires–leaving them with only two, and recently ran out of Hellfires themselves.

 

Late yesterday, the NYT finally focused on ISF’s wider problems:

Recent assessments by Western officials and military experts indicate that about a quarter of Iraq’s military forces are “combat ineffective,” its air force is minuscule, morale among troops is low and its leadership suffers from widespread corruption.

Five IA divisions were judged combat ineffective, including the Ninewa-based 2nd and 3rd Infantry Divisions, which dissolved under orders to withdraw from the ISIS advance. The 3rd Federal Police Division, which had been in Mosul, remains unaccounted for. Soldiers from those units have been pushed into Taji to be reconstituted. Atta added that “hundreds” of ISF members have been killed so far, a figure that wouldn’t be out place with what I’ve witnessed as casualty ratios in excess of 5:1.

NYT also delivers an opaque assessment of ISIS, putting its fighters at 5,000-6,000 in Iraq, with 4,000 allied Sunni militants. I’d switch those numbers around, based on the congregations of ISIS I’ve followed and their operational freedom and inability to implement governance regimes–even in Fallujah, which the group has held since December 2013. Interestingly, the NYT puts the number of captured artillery pieces from the Mosul offensive at 52. I expect most of these will be moved to Syria, where the battle lines are far more static–in Iraq, ISIS relies on its maneuver capabilities to outflank, intimidate, and break apart the Iraqi Army. The capture of the Mosul IA depot is far more significant in that respect, with its basic military materiel, ammunition, and ISF vehicles for ambushes and camouflage.

WaPo echoes the NYT’s assessment, citign one-week training for new ISF volunteers and a wider “psychological collapse” in ISF morale. Worse yet, most volunteers are signing up “under the banner” of militias. 10 more ScanEagles–which the IQAF have been operating for some time–will arrive in the next week or so, along with a new Hellfire shipment.

Ali Hatem Suleiman, speaking in Irbil with IAI leader Ahmed Dabash, continues to see how impossible he can make any reconciliation with Baghdad, today claiming that “Baghdad will fall.” Dabash himself was interviewed by the Telegraph.

WRITING ON IRAQ

The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons runs a piece sourced of thin gruel alleging direct Saudi support for ISIS, citing one Qatari official and David Ignatius. Cale Salih writes a fine report for NYT on over-enthusiasm about the strategic situation, as seen from Irbil. Joel Wings offers a cogent rationale for Sadr’s hesitancy to overtly reconstitute the Mahdi Army. USF’s Mohsen Milani pens a piece for Foreign Affairs that explores the contours of Iranian strategic thinking about the current crisis.